Seeing stars: Guards take center stage for KU-Notre Dame women’s showdown

Members of the Kansas women's basketball team welcome their teammates during practice for the NCAA regional games in Norfolk, VA., Saturday, March 30, 2013.

Kansas guard Angel Goodrich (3) passes the ball during practice for their NCAA college basketball tournament regional semifinal in Norfolk, Va., Saturday, March 30, 2013.

Members of the Kansas women's basketball team welcome their teammates during practice for the NCAA regional games in Norfolk, VA., Saturday, March 30, 2013.

Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins (4) takes a shot during practice for the NCAA regional games in Richmond, Va., Saturday, March 30, 2013.

? Basketball?

This is more of a match-up of socio-cultural phenomena.

“Angel Goodrich was a rock star over in Tahlequah (Okla.),” Kansas University women’s basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson said Saturday on the eve of the 12th-seeded Jayhawks’ NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game against Notre Dame, top-seeded in the Norfolk bracket. “Literally a rock star. Thousands of people went to her home games and followed her around.”

Henrickson added that she had to call ahead of time to make sure she could get a seat in the gym while recruiting Goodrich.

The legend of Skylar Diggins was jump-started by a rock star.

“It started in the NCAA Tournament her sophomore year, when we played Tennessee in Dayton,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “Lil Wayne tuned in for the Final Four, and, of course, I didn’t know who he was. … He started tweeting about her, and instantly celebrity status came. Forty thousand Twitter followers that day, up to 300,000 now.”

In today’s 11 a.m. game within the game, the point guards stand out.

“It’s a marquee match-up in which you will see two great point guards going at it,” said McGraw, who added that she thought Kansas (20-13) was “underseeded.” “It will be exciting. Both teams want to run and score a lot. The ball will be put in their hands most of the game, so it will be a great battle and a great TV game.”

The offenses of the two teams grow out of their point guards, both seniors with professional basketball aspirations who desperately hope their college careers won’t end this afternoon.

Goodrich, who is 5-foot-4, is more of a ball distributor, averaging seven assists per game. But she also scores well enough to average 14.4 points.

“She’s a great point guard, and I have seen what she is able to do these past four years in her career at Kansas,” Diggins said. “Her abilities to get the ball to her teammates, push in transition, attack the basket and finish (makes Goodrich) dangerous.”

Diggins, at 5-9, is more of a scorer. An All-American and Big East player of the year, she averages 16.8 points and 5.9 assists per game and is only 26 points from the all-time Notre Dame scoring record, 2,322. That mark is held by Beth (Morgan) Cunningham, now the Irish’s associate coach.

For all of the accolades she heaped on Goodrich, Diggins played down the personal challenge of guarding her.

“I’m concentrating on doing my job,” she said. “If I’m doing my job, she can’t do hers. (And) others have to know where she is, also.”

Goodrich was more sanguine about her task today.

“It’s going to be a great challenge,” Goodrich said of dealing with Diggins. “She’s done a lot for Notre Dame, and I’m looking forward to that challenge.”

That challenge is “being able to contain one another,” Goodrich added. “She knows how to get certain players the ball, and she likes to run the ball just like I do. So you want to stop the ball in transition, stop the ball in general.”

Stopping the ball has assumed an important role in the Jayhawks’ success through the first two rounds of the tournament, victories over Colorado and South Carolina.

“We’re still playing because we guarded,” Henrickson said. “In February, we stopped guarding, and we stopped winning. Between the tournament selection show and the tournament, we got better defensively. We kind of re-committed to some defensive concepts that we’d gotten soft with.”

Those concepts will be crucial today against Notre Dame (33-1), winner of its last 28 games.

So, too, will the impact of the match-up between Goodrich and Diggins.

“They have the ball a majority of the game, so when they are under pressure, it slows everything down,” Kansas forward Carolyn Davis said. “Whoever handles the ball better is going to help their team the most.”